German Literature - Works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you're going to visit Germany, you might want to learn a little bit about it's culture. There are many well-known German writers but one of the most famous writers of all time was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

He was born in 1749 in Frankfurt, Germany. His work includes epic and lyric poetry, prose and verse dramas, memoirs, treatises about various topics, and four novels. The American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson called Goethe one of six "representative men", along with Plato, Napoleon, and William Shakespeare.

Goethe's most famous work is probably 'Faust', a tragic play in two parts. Part one was published in 1808 but Goethe did not finish part two until 1831.

„Die Sonne tönt, nach alter Weise,

In Brudersphären Wettgesang,

Und ihre vorgeschriebne Reise

Vollendet sie mit Donnergang.

Ihr Anblick giebt den Engeln Stärke,

Wenn keiner sie ergründen mag.

Die unbegreiflich hohen Werke

Sind herrlich wie am ersten Tag.“

This is from the so called 'prologue in heaven'.  Here's the translation:

„The Sun, in ancient guise, competing

With brother spheres in rival song,

With thunder-march, his orb completing,

Moves his predestin'd course along;

His aspect to the powers supernal

Gives strength, though fathom him none may;

Transcending thought, the works eternal

Are fair as on the primal day.“

We hope you don't have too much trouble with the old German in his work. It might be a little bit tough to read at times, but it is well worth the trouble.

Here another example of his writing in 'Faust':

„Wenn ich saß bey einem Gelag,

Wo mancher sich berühmen mag,

Und die Gesellen mir den Flor

Der Mägdlein laut gepriesen vor,

Mit vollem Glas das Lob verschwemmt,

Den Ellenbogen aufgestemmt;

Saß ich in meiner sichern Ruh

Hört’ all’ dem Schwadroniren zu.

Und streiche lächelnd meinen Bart,

Und kriege das volle Glas zur Hand

Und sage: alles nach seiner Art!

Aber ist eine im ganzen Land,

Die meiner trauten Gretel gleicht,

Die meiner Schwester das Wasser reicht?

Top! Top! Kling! Klang! das ging herum!

Die einen schrieen: er hat Recht,

Sie ist die Zier vom ganzen Geschlecht!

Da saßen alle die Lober stumm.

Und nun! – um’s Haar sich auszuraufen

Und an den Wänden hinauf zu laufen! –

Mit Stichelreden, Naserümpfen

Soll jeder Schurke mich beschimpfen!

Soll wie ein böser Schuldner sitzen,

Bey jedem Zufallswörtchen schwitzen!

Und möcht’ ich sie zusammenschmeißen;

Könnt’ ich sie doch nicht Lügner heißen.

Was kommt heran? Was schleicht herbey?

Irr’ ich nicht, es sind ihrer zwey.

Ist er’s, gleich pack’ ich ihn beym Felle,

Soll nicht lebendig von der Stelle!“

Note that „bey“ is supposed to mean „bei“ (at). If you still have trouble with it, here's the translation of this part:

„When seated 'mong the jovial crowd,

Where merry comrades boasting loud

Each named with pride his favourite lass,

And in her honour drain'd his glass;

Upon my elbows I would lean,

With easy quiet view the scene,

Nor give my tongue the rein until

Each swaggering blade had talked his fill.

Then smiling I my beard would stroke,

The while, with brimming glass, I spoke;

"Each to his taste!—but to my mind,

Where in the country will you find,

A maid, as my dear Gretchen fair,

Who with my sister can compare?"

Cling! Clang! so rang the jovial sound!

Shouts of assent went circling round;

Pride of her sex is she!—cried some;

Then were the noisy boasters dumb.

And now I—I could tear out my hair,

Or dash my brains out in despair!—

Me every scurvy knave may twit,

With stinging jest and taunting sneer!

Like skulking debtor I must sit,

And sweat each casual word to hear!

And though I smash'd them one and all,—

Yet them I could not liars call.

Who comes this way? who's sneaking here?

If I mistake not, two draw near.

If he be one, have at him;—well I wot

Alive he shall not leave this spot!“

Germans are quite fond of Goethe. And luckily for you, his works are all in the public domain now. So you don't even have to pay anything to read his work!

You can find most of his work on the German Project Gutenberg page. If you need help with the translation, check out the English page as well.

I know, this is just a short introduction, but when you visit Germany, you'll be able to impress the natives with some quotes from Goethe, and trust me, they will love you for this!

Enjoy your trip to Germany and „viel Spaß